CARACAS, Venezuela — Since 2010, Venezuela has been experiencing a devastating socioeconomic and political crisis with things such as hyperinflation, disease, crime, death and massive emigration wreaking havoc on society. As of 2017, 82 percent of the population was living below the poverty line with almost as many suffering from malnutrition due to food shortages. Things only seem to be getting worse as poverty rises in Venezuela under President Maduro.
How Did It Get This Way?
Since 2013, much of the decline of living conditions in Venezuela is attributed to President Nicolas Maduro and his United Socialist Party of Venezuela. However, his predecessor, Hugo Chavez, bears considerable responsibility as well. At one point, Venezuela was thriving.
Venezuela, home to the world’s largest oil reserves, was once, in fact, “the envy of South America.” However, the countries economic blessing soon proved to be its greatest curse. Overreliance on the lucrative black gold made the countries’ markets especially volatile with the rising and falling prices per barrel. Exacerbating this reality has been the corruption and policies of the Chavez and Maduro governments.
Guillermo Coll, a political studies professor at the Universidad Metropolitana in Caracas, told the Borgen Project about how rising oil prices under Chavez gave the country immediate, albeit impermanent, social and economic advantages. “During the export boom of the 2000s, massive spending on social programs could be done thanks to the huge flow of petrodollars, but not without affecting our economic structure and strengthening our dependence on imports. Venezuelans experienced a high-volume of economic activity, but without any lasting social or industrial investments.”
The Result of the Fall in Oil Prices
In 2014, when global oil prices took a big dip, the government no longer had enough funds to import the basic necessities, such as food or medical supplies. Maduro has done little to remedy the problem. In fact, he has consistently denied its severity, rejecting international aid and allowing his corrupt military to control the food distribution at 100 times the price in certain cases.
With the economy in shambles, millions fled the country as the rain of crime, hunger, protest, unemployment and poverty began its downpour. Political discontentment is rising, but against Maduro’s suppression, various resistors have been imprisoned or exiled, demoralizing and fracturing the opposition movement. But there’s recently been a spark of hope.
The National Assembly, Venezuela’s legislature, named 35-year-old politician Juan Guaidó as their leader earlier this month. Since then, he has proclaimed himself as interim president of the country, calling for a transitional government and a return to democracy. He has been recognized by the United States, Canada and many European countries, all the while breathing life into a renewed movement to oust President Maduro and cure Venezuela of its ills.
A New Beginning?
Though things are still up in the air, Professor Coll thinks that, if Guaidó can become president, it is likely that “there will be a reopening of the markets and the productive apparatus,” but that this would be gradual. It is very likely though, he says, that Guaidó will first immediately address the social emergency in nutrition, health and poverty, which has obviously been lacking under the current authoritarian government. A win for Guaidó would mean the most for Venezuelans, who are joining in on the crusade every day.
Meanwhile, nonprofits like Cuatro Por Venezuela and Catholic Relief Services are raising money to help ship foodstuffs and other life-saving supplies to Venezuelans. “Fight, and you shall win. For God grants victory to perseverance” were the words uttered by Simón Bolívar, who, in 1811, founded the country of Venezuela after leading his men to defeat Spanish colonizers.
Today, Bolívar’s cry for perseverance echoes with relevance through Venezuelan citizens, who currently face another form of tyranny under President Maduro. Under Guaidó, they are ready to unite and endure if it means freeing their homeland and uplifting themselves and their fellow countrymen from the misfortunes they have experienced under Maduro’s government.
– William Cozens